[Column] The best, and worst, in Asia in 2022

Home > Opinion > Columns

print dictionary print

[Column] The best, and worst, in Asia in 2022

Curtis S. Chin

Curtis S. Chin, a former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, is managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group.
Jose B. Collazo

Jose B. Collazo is an analyst focusing on the Indo-Pacific region. Follow them on Twitter at @CurtisSChin and @JoseBCollazo.

Every year, we take a look back at the year that was — at Asia’s triumphs and tragedies. And 2022 was no different as we took to CNBC at year’s end to premiere our Best to Worst Year in Asia list.

From arts to politics, Korea made its mark. The conservatives returned to power with opposition candidate Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party defeating candidate Lee Jae-myung of the incumbent party to win the South Korean presidency, showing the region and the world a peaceful, democratic transition of power in the heart of Asia.

The world also took note as global K-pop sensation Blackpink was named by Time magazine as Entertainer of the Year 2022. Earlier, music fans worldwide were stunned to learn from record label Big Hit Entertainment that the superstar group BTS was taking a hiatus, with all seven members planning to undertake military service.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, not wanting to be ignored, ended the year with more missile tests and new drone incursions, ratcheting up the level of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in the region once again.

In our 2021 annual review, we awarded “worst year in Asia” to Afghan women and girls — a consequence of the U.S. and its allies’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the return of Taliban rule. “Best year” went to Asia’s Cold War warriors as social media, “wolf warriors” and politicians helped drive a return to Cold War rhetoric amid worsening U.S.-China relations.

Now, with hopes for Covid in retreat and inflation in moderation in the year ahead, we take one last and updated look at Asia 2022.
1. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. was elected president of the Philippine and Anwar Ibrahim was finally named prime minister of Malaysia.2. The logo of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).3. Representations of cryptocurrencies seen in front of displayed FTX logo and decreasing stock graph on Nov. 10.4. Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.5. “Blank sheet protests” in Beijing on Nov. 27, against China’s draconian lockdowns for Covid-19. [AP/YONHAP; IANS, YONHAP, REUTERS/YONHAP, BBC, REUTERS/YONHAP]

Best Year: Southeast Asia’s comeback kids
Perseverance proved a winner in 2022 as the year ended with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. of the Philippines and Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia becoming leaders of their respective countries. One salvaged a family legacy, the other moved from prison to power — narratives fitting for a Netflix series.

In the Philippines, Marcos — the namesake son of his authoritarian father — won a landslide election in May for president despite what detractors still see as a family legacy of corruption and impunity. More than 35 years earlier, in February 1986, the senior Marcos and his wife Imelda had fled to Hawaii in exile, driven out by a People Power Revolution and a loss of U.S. support.

And in Malaysia, Anwar finally proved a winner in November, leaving behind the long-held descriptor of “prime-minister-in-waiting” to become his nation’s 10thprime minister. This followed decades marked by smear campaigns, imprisonment and backroom intrigue as the one-time deputy prime minister challenged vested interests with his vows to combat corruption.

The two now face the challenge of governing and moving their respective countries forward. Stay tuned for the next episode.

Good Year: Taiwan’s chipmakers
In a year that saw tensions between the U.S. and China reach a feverish peak as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, the island’s sophisticated semiconductor industry ended the year in a good position. Taiwan’s chipmakers are valued and deemed more essential than ever.

Semiconductor chips lie at the heart of everything from computers to cars and smartphones. Underscoring the Taiwanese tech industry’s critical role, a Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA)/Boston Consulting Group 2021 study found that 92 percent of the world’s most advanced chip manufacturing capacity was located in Taiwan. The other 8 percent was in South Korea.

A rare bipartisan U.S. Congress has taken notice, passing in July 2022 the CHIPS and Science Act, which allocates $52 billion in federal funding to spur further domestic production of chips. In December, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s dominant chipmaker, announced bold plans for a second semiconductor chip plant in Arizona, upping to $40 billion what is already one of the largest foreign investments in U.S.

With numbers like those, Taiwan’s semiconductor industry ends the year on the move, still building ties and winning growing support from businesses and governments in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Mixed Year: Asia’s “love” for crypto
Like in much of the world, investors in Asia — once bedazzled, if not bewitched, by the now embattled crypto industry — end the year in a mixed mood. Industry meltdowns have left many, including in government, wondering if the message of caveat emptor — “buyer beware” — is sufficient, and new regulations loom.

The crypto exchange FTX’s billions-dollar implosion set off alarm bells throughout the region. Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, which has written off its entire $275 million investment in the now-collapsed FTX cryptocurrency business, has suffered “reputational damage,” Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said.

The pioneering and then collapsing fintech companies that helped create the 2022 crypto winter ranged from Terraform Labs, the Singapore-based company behind cryptocurrency TerraUSD, to the now bankrupt Singapore-based hedge fund Three Arrows Capital. The year also saw Bitfront, a crypto exchange backed by Line, one of Japan’s largest social media players, close its doors.

Still, hope springs eternally that in Asia and elsewhere, a crypto-spring will come as part of the ongoing embrace of a “digital asset economy” and “all things fintech.”

Bad Year: Sri Lanka — Pearl of South Asia
Even amidst ongoing food security and economic woes across much of Asia, the images of angry citizens storming the official residence of Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Presidential Secretariat stand out in what was most decidedly a bad year for this one-time “pearl of South Asia.”

Sri Lanka continues to face a multidimensional crisis. A broken economy, depleted foreign currency reserves, high inflation — at one point reaching more than 70 percent — and power, fuel and food shortages made worse by the impact of the war in Ukraine, a growing “brain drain” and meager tourism numbers all characterize this south Asian nation today. By September, nearly 200,000 Sri Lankans had left the island nation and thousands of other would-be emigrants are planning to do the same in search of a brighter future elsewhere.

An IMF deal to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt could provide much needed cash and economic stability, but negotiations remain complicated by large amounts of Sri Lankan debt held also by China, India and Japan.

Worst year: China’s locked-down citizens
While China once took understandable pride in an extraordinarily low number of (officially reported) Covid-related deaths, the nation has since become a showcase for the negative consequences of uneven efforts to contain the virus. After an abrupt reversal in December from a zero-Covid policy to what some see as zero policy on Covid, tens of millions of Chinese have reportedly become quickly infected. What should have been a good year for Chinese President Xi Jinping as he consolidated power and set the stage for another term as China’s president has instead closed with a wave of Chinese discontent — and sadly, Chinese illness and deaths.

By early December, anti-lockdown protests had been reported in numerous cities, including at the world’s largest iPhone assembly factory in Zhengzhou, as China’s zero-Covid policy took its toll on the economy and everyday people’s mental health. “We want freedom, not Covid tests,” became a common chant of some protesters, according to Reuters, as individuals “pushed the boundaries by speaking for change in a country where space for dissent has narrowed dramatically.” Watch what you wish for.

Now, as China’s leaders reversed nearly three years of lockdowns and seeks to rapidly reopen to the world, reports are coming of overwhelmed hospitals, and crematoria working overtime due to a spike in deaths, including among China’s often unvaccinated elderly. Official Chinese statistics though continue to report few deaths under new definitions of what constitutes a “Covid death” — bringing renewed questions from China’s own people about accountability and transparency. And so, even as hope has returned for a better year ahead, China’s beleaguered, once-locked-down citizens take the dubious honors of worst year in Asia 2022.

Let’s hope that 2023 proves a better year for them and the world.
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)